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DIY Kitchen Island Makeover

Update your kitchen with this tutorial for a DIY kitchen island makeover.

Head to my YouTube channel for the full video on how I completed this kitchen island makeover. And don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE while you’re there to see lots more how-to videos!

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Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram to see these projects happen in real time! And subscribe to my YouTube for full video tutorials of each project (video for this project is still in progress)

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A couple years ago, when I first renovated our kitchen/dining/living room space (the main living area of the house), I added a new island in the center to separate the kitchen from the living room. There used to be a full wall there. When we removed the wall, I just left a small section of it and attached a base cabinet to form the island (that’s also why there’s an air vent in the island – used to be on a wall back when this was a wall).

It wasn’t anything fancy. I had a very tight budget at that point and just had to do the best I could as cheaply as possible. You can read about the original project here.

This is what it looked like after Round 1:

Don’t mind the half-done beam wrap. I had already started to take it down to redo it when I took these photos.

The island worked well just as it was, but I had always hoped to come back and redo it sometime when I had a little more flexible budget (and more experience).

I redid quite a few things in Round 2 including new flooring, new beam and column finish, light fixtures, and paint.

Here’s a half-way shot to give you an idea of the progression before the full island makeover:

DIY kitchen island makeover before

I cut the top and sides of the island off before I put in the new flooring so I could install the floors right up to it. Keep in mind – it’s NOT NECESSARY to cut the sides. You can always just saw the top off of your island and leave the sides as-is. I cut the sides since I was already doing the floors and wanted the whole island to look like one big piece at the end, rather than a cabinet attached to the wall.

So now, let get to the step-by-step!

If your current kitchen island has a bar on one side, start from Step 1. If not, continue to Step 3.

STEP 1.

Remove the bar countertop, as well as the countertop on the cabinet section of the island. Then measure, mark, and cut the bar off so it is level with the rest of the cabinet. I completely forgot to take photos of this step (sorry!), but I’ll do my best to explain it.

First, If there is any electrical in your way, be sure to TURN THE BREAKER OFF and move any switches or outlets as necessary. I moved the switch from the front of the island (you can see it in the photo above) to the right side. If you don’t feel comfortable moving electrical, be sure to hire an electrician. That said, you don’t need to wire anything new for this. You’re simply moving existing electrical out of the way if necessary.

**DISCLAIMER: I am NOT an electrician and am not qualified to give electrical advice. This was just the first step I took in this makeover.

Once electrical is out of the way, mark a level line across the bar side of the island at the same height as the shorter side (without the countertop). Score the drywall along the line so it will break easily as you cut.

Use a hand saw, circular saw, or sawzall to cut along the level line. You can use a jab saw to cut the drywall and then a bigger saw to cut the studs, or just the same saw for all of it – up to you. Just be careful not to damage the lower cabinet side of the island.

I used a hand saw to make this cut. You can use power tools if you prefer. I used the hand saw to be extra careful not to damage the cabinet that I was cutting down level with (also, the kids were napping and I didn’t want to risk waking them up 😉 ). Drywall cuts really easily and the studs are just 2x4s, so it’s not to bad to do by hand.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 1

The main countertop is back in place in the photo above, but I removed it during cutting.

Once you’re done, you should have an island that’s all one level as shown above.

Step 2.

Reconnect the framing you just cut through.

When you cut the top off, you’ll end up with a bunch of sawed off 2x4s that are just kinda hanging out, disconnected at the tops.

Since I also cut the sides of the island off, I had to put in new 2x4s on either end. If you don’t cut the sides off, you shouldn’t have to add new vertical studs – they should already be there.

I just cut the 2×4 to the correct height and used a kreg jig to attach it to the base plate. You can just drive the screws in at an angle if you don’t own a kreg jig.

Then I added new framing between the vertical studs.

I cut the 2x4s to length for each section and used a kreg jig and pocket holes to attach them. Again, if you don’t own a kreg jig, you can simple drive the screws at an angle. I used pocket holes since they’re easy. But this will all be covered up, so it doesn’t have to be pretty – just square and sturdy.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 2

Typically when you frame something, you run the base plate and top plate on top of the vertical studs. Since this island was already in place and drywalled, I would have had to cut another 1 1/2″ (thickness of the 2×4) off the bar side to make that work. That way, the top of the island would all end up at the same height when I put that new 2×4 top plate in place. I didn’t want to worry about patching drywall over that, so I just did this weird makeshift framing between the vertical studs. Again – totally up to you. As with everything, there’s a million ways to do this!

DIY kitchen island makeover step 2

OK – the framing is done, nothing’s going to fall over, and it’s starting to look like an island again.

I installed the new countertop at this point. You can do it any time once the framing is in place. I installed it before trim so I could trim right up to it to make the joints as tight as possible.

The new countertop is Riverstone Quartz from Menards.

Step 3.

You can do pretty much anything you want with the trim, but I’ll share what I did to give you some ideas!

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

First I added a 4″ MDF baseboard along the bottom. I bought 1×6 primed MDF boards and ripped them down to 4″. You can go wider or smaller if you prefer. I did 4″ since that’s the width of the toe kick along the front of the cabinet.

Next, I stacked 1/2″x4 aspen on top of the MDF. I also attached 1/2″x4 aspen around the top of the island.

Then I covered the bottom joint between the MDF and aspen with a small decorative piece of trim.

There are a ton of options for decorative pieces. You can usually find them in a small section next to the main trim aisle at your home improvement store.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

I went with something pretty small and simple.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

I mitered all corners to 45° for the baseboard and decorative pieces and attached them to the island with a brad nailer.

Adjust nail size depending on the thickness of your cabinet so you don’t drive nails all the way through your cabinet. I used 1/2″ nails on the cabinet.

For the drywall & studs portion, use nails long enough to reach the studs. Drywall on walls is usually 1/2″ thick, so I used 1 1/4″ brad nails for the aspen trim and 2″ brad nails for the MDF trim (thicker than the aspen). Be sure to drive nails into the studs on the wall side – not just the drywall.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

The vertical trim is all 1/4″x6 aspen boards. I originally planned to use the same thickness boards for both the horizontal and vertical boards (1/2″), but I tested a few different layouts and ended up really liking the different thicknesses.

Again, totally up to personal preference!

Whichever you choose, simply stack it between the bottom and top horizontal boards and attach with brad nails. Again, be sure to hit the studs along the wall side.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

The cabinet face frame (on the front of the island) had a 1/4″ overhang to the sides. Since the new top and bottom trim is 1/2″ thick, I added one more piece of decorative trim along the front to cover up the exposed ends and make the new trim look seamless with the face frame along the front.

Same decorative trim that I used on the baseboard transition between the MDF and aspen.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

Once you’re finished with all the trim, it should look like a bunch of puzzle pieces nailed in place.

Like so:

DIY kitchen island makeover step 3

Step 4.

Fill the nail holes with wood filler. Let it dry and then sand smooth.

Caulk all joints between the trim and walls. Make sure to use PAINTABLE CAULK – I’ve made that mistake before haha. Run a small bead of caulk along the offset seams and then smooth it out with your finger (or a bead finishing tool – I just use my finger). Keep a damp rag, or baby wipes, handy to clean your fingers as you go. Baby wipes are my go-to since we have so many of them lying around 😉 But a damp rag works well too.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 4

I get a lot of questions on when to use caulk vs wood filler.

The rule of thumb:

  • Wood filler on all joints and surfaces that should be totally flat and look like a solid piece
  • Caulk on all “offset” joints (like between the wall and a piece of trim, or on the “step” between the 1/2″ trim and 1/4″ trim)

Step 5.

Prime all raw wood and any new trim that isn’t pre-primed.

Use a trim brush to edge wherever the roller won’t reach, then follow up with a foam trim roller to cover the rest of the surfaces.

If you own a sprayer, you could use that instead. I didn’t want to worry about taping off and covering our entire house, so I just did the whole thing with a brush and roller.

Be sure to use the fine finish trim roller. They’re made with high density foam and don’t have any nap (like standard rollers), which will give you the smoothest finish possible without spraying.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 5

I didn’t prime the cabinet portion since I had already primed it back when I first installed the island.

If you’re starting with a wood cabinet, be sure to de-gloss the existing finish and prime it before painting – just like you would if you painted your other cabinets. This de-glosser works great. I’ve used it on many furniture repainting projects!

Step 6.

Paint!

Remove the cabinet doors and hardware to paint the base of the island. Then paint the doors and drawer faces.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 5

Again, use a small trim brush to cut in the edges and a fine finish trim roller to roll the rest.

This is Benjamin Moore Salamander 2050-10. It’s a beautiful deep green!

In full disclosure, I actually just used Behr paint and had Home Depot match it to BM Salamander to save some money. It worked out just fine, but I would honestly pay the extra money to get the Benjamin Moore trim urethane enamel next time. I’ve used their trim urethane enamels before and DID notice a difference. The urethane trim enamels are self-leveling, which is super super nice and gives your a near seamless finish when you paint with a brush and roller. They also dry really hard, which is important for cabinets, particularly one like this island that sees so much daily use (and kids driving their bikes and toy vehicles into it).

If you’re on a budget, by all means GO FOR THE CHEAPER PAINT! It still looks beautiful and is holding up well! And you can add a self-leving additive called Floetrol to help it level out for a seamless finish.

But if you can spare the extra $$, I definitely recommend the BM urethane enamel. It’s a very high quality product.

Step 7.

Once the paint is dry, reinstall the cabinet doors and drawer faces.

Finish it all off with brand new hardware! I used these beautiful Franklin Brass brass cabinet pulls – they’re the perfect contrast against the dark green.

DIY kitchen island makeover step 7

And there you have it!

Pretty sure this is one of my favorite DIY makeovers EVER. I say that after every project, but I mean it for real with this one! This island is right in the middle of the main living space in our house and it completely changed the feel of the entire room. We are so so happy with it – budget friendly paint and all 😉

DIY kitchen island makeover

Please let me know if you have any questions and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

I’m working on a YouTube video showing you the whole step-by-step and will let you know when it’s live. OR you can head over to my channel and subscribe to be notified any time I post a new tutorial!

DIY kitchen island makeover

Thanks for stopping by!

For more project ideas, you can find me on Pinterest. And to stay up to date with the latest shenanigans, follow me on Instagram and subscribe to my YouTube.

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